Please rotate your device

Roman Occupation on Cathedral Site

1st Century AD


Archaeological evidence around and underneath the Cathedral indicates that there was once a Roman occupation on this site. A building with a boundary ditch and monumental stonework was discovered. These may indicate a substantial building, possibly a temple or monumental arch. The huge amount of Roman pottery found in an archaeological dig in 2016 would agree with this theory. If this building was a temple, it is interesting to speculate whether it was later rededicated as a church when the Romans became Christians. Durobrivae, the nearest major Roman town, has examples of early Christian conversion. A carving at the site, previously thought to be Saxon, has now been identified as Roman. The carving possibly depicts fates or spirits.


Foundation of the First Abbey



A monastery was founded on the current Cathedral site on the north bank of the River Nene in Saxon times. At that time the area was called Medeswell, later Medehamstede. This translates as 'the home or farmstead in the water meadows'. The monastery was founded by Peada, son of King Penda of Mercia. It was completed by Peada’s brother Wulfhere. At that time Mercia was a pagan Saxon kingdom, but as part of a marriage contract with neighbouring Christian Northumbria, Christian missionaries were allowed to found a religious house here. The original monastery may have been built of timber, but seems to have been later replaced in stone. These original monks were Celtic Christians.

The Great Fire of Peterborough



Most of the town was destroyed in the Great fire of Peterborough, including the castle. It is claimed the church tower burnt for nine days. It possibly started from from an unattended fire in the Abbey's bakery. The Anglo- Saxon Chronicle says “all the minster of Peterborough burned, and all the buildings except the chapter-house and the dormitory; and besides, the most part of the town also all burned. All this happened on a Friday; that was 4 August…”  

Chronicle Writers (and a Wild Hunt)



Much of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was written at Peterborough Abbey in this period. It is one of the key sources for medieval history. Today it is preserved in the Peterborough D and E Manuscripts. Another chronicle was written here by a monk called Hugh Candidus, which tells the story of the abbey. One tale he told was of a corrupt abbot, Henry d'Angély, who was a rather godless and worldly man. He planned to loot Peterborough of its wealth. As a result a dread portent followed in the form of a spectral 'wild hunt' sent to terrorise the area. 'In the very year in which he came to the abbey, marvellous portents were seen and heard at night during the whole of lent, throughout the woodland and plains, from the monastery as far as Stamford. For there appeared, as it were, hunters with horns and hounds, all being jet black, their horses and hounds as well, and some rode as it were on goats and had great eyes and there were twenty or thirty together. Many men of faithful report both saw them and heard the horns...'    


Rebuilding the Central Tower



The central tower of Peterborough Cathedral was rebuilt for a second time in 1883. After this the whole central and eastern area of the church required refurbishment. This provided an opportunity for the creation of the fine, hand carved choir stalls, cathedra (bishop's throne) and choir pulpit. The marble pavement and high altar which are at the centre of worship today, were also created. The works led to the discovery of some of the Saxon church foundations and Roman stonework under the central tower and south transept. A tunnel was left so that these could be accessed.  

Death of St Kyneburgha



Saint Kyneburgha or Kyneburga was the daughter of Saxon King Penda of Mercia. She converted to Christianity and founded an abbey for both monks and nuns in Castor in the 7th century, becoming the first Abbess. She died 15th September 680 AD and was originally buried in Castor. She was moved to Peterborough Abbey and later still to Thorney Abbey and is remembered on her feast day on 6th March.

Present Day Prebendal Manor Built



In 1200 the Anglo-Saxon wooden hall in Nassingham that Cnut had visited around 1017, was replaced by the present stone building. It is the oldest property in Northamptonshire.

Mapping the Medieval World



Peterborough Abbey was the birth place of many great documents including the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, but a less well-known document in the Mappae mundi (world map) in the Peterborough Computus, also known as the Peterborough Map or Peterborough Diagrammatic Map. The map, dating from around 1120, attempts to explain the relation of counties, countries and cities within a large circle in a diagrammatic format that continues today in maps such as the London Underground map. Unlike modern maps, east is at the top of the map, with Jerusalem sitting at the centre of the world. Brittanaia (Britain) sits on the circle to the left of the circle; other recognisable names include Affrica, Roma and Nazareth. The map is held at the British Library in London and has been named as a sibling map to the Thorney Map, which in turn, was thought to have been a copy of the Ramsey Map from around 1016.  

Orton Hall Farm

50 AD


Archaeological excavations in the 1970s revealed a large first century farmstead in the vicinity of Orton Hall. The site was first in use from around 50AD and continued to be used well into the Saxon period. The farm house had a yard with a wall around it, and there were large barns and a mill too. Agricultural activities were evident, as well as beer production and milling, suggesting some wealth was attached to the farmstead.

Fletton Church Fascinations



St Margaret's Church in Fletton was identified in the Domesday Book of 1086, but some of its features are considerably older. Safely protected inside the church are Anglo-Saxon carvings, presumed to be 8th or 9th Century, consisting of a frieze and two separate figures. The frieze contains images of saints, angels and mythical beasts, set amongst typical Anglo-Saxon woven designs. The images are thought to be of St. Michael and an Evangelist. All of the stonework is a light pink colour suggesting that it was once in a fire. One theory is that they had been moved from Peterborough Abbey during the great fire of 1116. Another feature of the church is a large cross in the churchyard which may have Anglo-Saxon origins. The cross has had several additions and alterations and contains a rather peculiar Latin inscription at its base.
The cross can be easily accessed in the churchyard, but the internal features can only be viewed when the church is open. Photo credit: St Margaret's Church, Old Fletton, Peterborough cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Julian Dowse -